UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"I still have that athlete soul" : storying identity and pain in retired athletes Welch, Kassandra


Sport culture narratives teach athletes that their identities should center around athletic performance and physical superiority, with pain as an accepted part of sport-related success. A strong athletic identity has been linked with greater amounts of pain related distress. It is not surprising then that athletes’ learned relationship with pain may have long-term consequences for their identities and overall well-being through the transition out of sport and beyond. While identities in active and retired athletes have been extensively studied, less is known about retired athletes who experience persistent pain post-sporting career. The purpose of this study was to explore how persistent pain shaped and constrained how retired athletes negotiated their post-athletic career identities, and to illuminate how retired athletes used storytelling to make sense of their experiences with persistent pain. Adopting a narrative constructionist lens, I conducted two life story interviews with eight retired athletes (16 interviews) who had played at an elite level and who were currently experiencing persistent pain (pain lasting for greater than three months). Using dialogical narrative analysis, three themes were developed. Firstly, Developing an Intuitive Connection with the Body: participants described how pain taught them to listen to their body in retirement, with this dialogue enabling them to attend to their body’s needs, and to manage their ongoing pain. Secondly, Pain Enabling Empathy and Social Connection: participants used stories to depict how their pain experiences facilitated empathy and connection with others during retirement, which was juxtaposed to the isolation they felt as athletes when in pain. Thirdly, Disaffiliation or Connection Through Storytelling: participants drew on different narrative identity types (performance and relational narratives) based on their social relationships to story their experiences of pain. Some sought disaffiliation from others by recounting stories of athletic dominance, while others sought connection and belonging by relaying stories of teamwork and sport comradery. The findings expand our theoretical understanding of how stories and storytelling are used to make sense of athletes' post-sporting career lives. Application of these findings can better equip coaches, mental performance consultants, and sport organizations to tailor their support for athletes through the transition to retirement.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International